Change is easy

9 Minutes

You don’t always need a crisis to force your hand. One of the critical things a crisis does is it makes what previously looked risky no longer look so risky in the context.

Right now so much of what I’m hearing and reading espouses to unlock critical change and much needed innovation. Be that for society, for the environment, as a leader, for the business, or as a start up wanting to force a new paradigm.

There’s so much ‘good theory’. It’s everywhere and anywhere. Podcasts are the new black. Ted talks, and we all listen. Elbow to elbow in Zoom webinars brimming with theory, conjecture and postulation. It’s good stuff.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking wow we’re progressive, so much positive change is taking place all around us.

Is it? Really.

Everyone has an opinion but I’m not really hearing answers. Or at least I’m not hearing practical usable advice that lead to answers and action.

There are a lot of people inside lots of businesses wanting, needing, declaring they must make change. So it’s no great surprise there’s a bounty of theory and expertise washing around. That’s demand and supply.

But many of these are platitudes, perceived (but not actual) wisdom, band wagon chasing. ‘I say I want to change or support innovation honestly, but I’ve really got all my fingers crossed behind my back just in case anyone thinks I’m serious’.

The prevailing sentiment in business is conservatism. And in conservatism, by definition, little or nothing changes. The risk of change and innovation feels, and therefore is, far greater than the risk of maintaining a status quo.

If it’s not broken don’t fix. I wonder if that’s what went down at Woolworths, Blockbusters, Dixons, MFI, JJB Sports, Toys R Us, Borders, BHS, I could go on but you get the picture.

And before you say ‘ah ha yes but they’re all failed retail businesses who sadly fell victim to the troubled high street’ (like they were passengers in a car crash). Randomly, what about Thomas Cook, Bolton Wanderers, FlyB, Compac, General Motors, Kodak, Nokia, Yahoo, Blackberry Motion, Hitachi? Change and innovation could have taken place here but didn’t and they’re either worse off as a result or no longer here.

Let’s be really clear. CHANGE IS REALLY EASY. Innovation can take place.

But if you’re not serious about it you’ll be wasting a lot of time and resource.

Covid-19 has demonstrated that change and innovation can happen. Rapidly. Albeit under duress there are numerous examples of where businesses have not only survived but flourished because of their urgency and commitment to the cause.

But you don’t always need a crisis to force your hand. One of the critical things a crisis does is it makes what previously looked risky no longer look so risky in the context.

If you want it and are serious about it and you’re comfortable with a certain level of risk there is really nothing to stop you.

If you take a genuine appetite and desire for innovation and change as read then the 64 million dollar question becomes how?

Obviously a great deal rests on particular and individual circumstances. But a blend of the following do’s and don’t’s will help bring about change and innovation, IF, you’re deadly serious about it.

1.Don’t invest significant resource in identifying the route to change and then not bother with proper investment for implementation. Invest at least as much resource and effort in implementation.

2.Do not conflate the process of implementation with the strategy. See them as two distinct but mutually valuable and important components. Like Laurel and Hardy if you will.

3.When it comes to implementation do not use language that makes you believe you’re a gifted writer or sound clever. Do use the words you would use to describe the thinking to your mum or your dad, or your neighbour, or your friend over coffee. Avoid Jargon at all costs. Anything else is really not going to engage your audience. You’ll get folk switching off, tuning out, and rolling their eyes while folding their arms.

4.Ask everyone in your company what they think. And because of (3) above listen very carefully to the actual words they use when they tell you. These are your biggest clues for how to communicate and implement later.

5.Facilitate votes on well presented, viable options where possible. Demonstrate that you want to canvas and receive all possible ideas in order to construct a best case.

6.Do not inform or base your strategy by looking only at the spreadsheet. This is less than half the picture and akin to getting in the car and driving off using only the rear view mirror to see where you’re going. And the antithesis of (5).

7.The days of hero leaders who are required (or believe they are) to think of the solution all on their own are over, it doesn’t work. Do involve everyone. Including your clients and customers. And do listen to them.

8.When it comes to making key decisions do think about group intelligence or swarm leadership. Gather people with chains of command and agree decisions together. Put ego aside and demonstrate high emotional intelligence. Be generous and supportive of each other and yet stay focused on the task each has been given. Thanks Eric McNulty.

9.Do Simplify do simplify do simplify. When you think you’ve arrived at something you think is simple, be assured it can probably be simplified further. Why the insistence on simplicity? Because people do not have the time nor often the inclination for anything more. One chance to land you message. That’s all you have. And you have to do this within the blink of an eye. A cursory glance is the best you can hope for.

10.Keep everyone in your business close. Updated and informed along the way. Absolute transparency and clarity about where you all are on the journey. Even when that’s hard news to share. Because no one will thank you or spare you for keeping it to yourself. Have absolute conviction on behalf of everyone. It is infectious.

11.Do not stop prosecuting and investing in the change you want to see. You do not bring your child up to the age of three and then proudly declare to friends and family ‘my work here is done’. Have itchy feet about the new direction. Do not stand still. It’s fluid. And it’s never over.